Written by Shugabooga
A few years ago, on the eve of the release of his Maybach Music debut “Ohio”, Masillon native Stalley threw a concert at the Grog Shop in Cleveland. Just before Stalley took the stage for his proverbial victory lap, another Ohio native who has a little experience with debut albums hit the stage. “New Cleveland” Godfather Ray Cash came out and ran through some of his greatest hits and debut a new song with the up and coming Billard. And looking back on it, I can’t help but look at the parallels between the bearded emcee and the bespectacled rapper.
Ray defied a box. He dodged labels and stereotypes. It was his blessing and his curse. His baritone voice didn’t match his narrow frame. His glasses and tight fade didn’t match his street heavy lyrics. The production on his album was all over the place because the label really didn’t know what to do with him. “Bumpin’ My Music” was a Masta Ace style trunk rattler that kind of sounded down south, but kind of sounded East Coast. “Pimp In My Own Mind” was decidedly southern. The streets loved “She A G”, and at his shows that song still gets the best response, but by the time the label tried to figure out what they had with the first two singles, the budget was gone.
I’ve talked to Ray about it and he agrees. The streets knew what to do with Ray, and when he came out with “Clangin’ and Swangin'” a mixtape overseen by production duo The Kickdrums, the response was tremendous. But the label didn’t have the vision or foresight to keep him around, so since that time he’s been independent and has made projects that fit him better than that debut did.
He found a home on the independent scene and it’s where he’s remained for better or worse.
Stalley with The Bubblehedz own Face of the Franchise Shugabooga (Photo Credit: TC Images)
Stalley strikes me as a guy who brings that same sort of paradigm. He is an old soul. He talks about resurrecting the culture. He’s a curator of hip hop. Whereas other artists are saying that they don’t want to bridge the gap between old and new, Stalley finds value in both.
Unfortunately artists who are hard to define struggle to find definition. Labels and radio stations like simple. Complexity makes their job hard.
When Stalley signed with Maybach Music we celebrated for a second and then we paused. What in the hell does he do now? Would the label try to rebrand him as a crossover gangster like Ross? Would they try to let his lyricism shine and put him in the Kendrick box? Would he be able to live up to a higher level of production? Ross signed Wale- equally head scratching. But Wale was a more natural fit. Although he isn’t much like Ross, he is clearly a more “radio-friendly” type of performer.
What would they do with Stalley?
Quite simply put- not much. They promoted “Ohio” well, lots of blog coverage and publicity, but the project never seemed to be a focus for the label. Much like Ray Cash’s “C.O.D.”, The production was all over the place and the album didn’t sound cohesive. They tried to make singles like “Boomin'” and “Jackin’ Chevy’s”, capitalizing on Stalley’s obvious West Coast slant- but that’s not the kind of West Coast he sounds comfortable on. The album floundered and all though it was a higher profile project than he’s used to and increased his standing in a crowded hip hop marketplace, it confirmed what we all thought. Maybach Music was probably not the right fit.
Although there’s no traces of dissolution to be found online, the writing is on the wall. Stalley would appear to be a free agent. There is clearly no bad blood with Ross, as he recently helped promote the Bawse’s new album. Stalley doesn’t strike me as the type of guy to air dirty laundry. But it’s still time for him to find a better fit. And until that happens he’s dropping projects on his own terms.
Enter the “New Wave”.
This time he went back to what he knows best- bars and beats. With the help of producers Ducko McFli and Black Diamond he lays a soundscape that matches his personality. We’ve seen him working back towards this foundation on his recent releases “Saving Yusuf” and “The Laughing Introvert”, but this album has a clarity that I didn’t hear on those releases. Stalley has a purpose on this project that sounds like he is comfortable. And it is some of his best work since he joined MMG.
It starts slow. I’m not going to lie, if Stalley doesn’t have the right tracks behind him he can have a tendency to sound like “fill in the blank with any ‘conscious rapper” here.
But there is an undeniable arc to this album, starting with “New Wave”, where Stalley catches his stride. It’s like listening to the soundtrack of a ball player in the zone. And it’s incredible.
“Madden ’96” is a quick glimpse into just how incredible a focused Stalley is. “Hard Headed with car fetish/ We’ll toss a ni**a for raw lettuce- tryin’ to see 1000 islands”
That’s just one of the gems he drops on the lyrical car crash that is “Madden”.
“Kevin Hart” is the type of West Coast Music Stalley excels on. It’s more MC Eiht than G Funk, and it is my favorite track on the album (although the low end flute on “Sativa Break” gives it a run for its money!)
“My Purpose” finds Stalley speaking on his journey in music. He states that he wants to bring the culture back. That we’ve been spending too much time trying to have fun and make anthems, and not enough time trying to uplift the culture.
“Soul Searching” and “Old School Game” do just that. They are fresh takes on traditional hip hop. Stalley is making the music we were looking for the whole time!
There are still times when he tinkers with a “trap” cadence here and there, but that’s to be expected. What you don’t hear on this project is a stretch. He’s not chasing a hit record. There’s no longer the shadow of a “Bawse” clouding the recording process.
What you get is Stalley on his own terms. Should he decide to pursue a new label home, you hope that it’s one that shares his vision instead of trying to get him to adapt to theirs, because when you let the Blue Collar Gang supervisor get to work, he produces great hip hop. Not just for the Buckeye State but for the world.
With the right system behind him he’s the type of artist that can be added to that Kendrick/J Cole discussion- and it’s not a stretch.
It’s a New Wave.
Download Stalley’s “New Wave” here:
Check out the video for “New Wave” here: